I have just returned from having run the Alexander the Great marathon in Thessaloniki in Greece.
The race was over a point to point course, starting at a statue of Alexander in his birth place of Pella,
and then running pretty much due East to end at another statue of the great man on the waterfront Thessaloniki.
The course is overall down hill, starting at around 45m above sea level and ending less than a metre above it.
There are some very gentle undulations, but no significant climbs.
That said, while the prevailing wind is from the West, when I ran it,
I encountered a head wind during a gradual climb over the
whole of the 27km stage, making this the toughest section of the race.
Organisation of the race is good. The Expo, where you pick up your number,
is in the centre of Thessaloniki, near the finish.
This was very laid back, but worked fine.
Buses were laid on to take runners to the start, again from near the finish.
The race started at 8am, so the buses leave early at 5:30 to 6:00 am.
Baggage was well looked after being taken by vans from the start to the finish.
Although the information said bags had to be on the vans 50 mins before the start of the race,
in reality people were putting them on 15-20 mins before hand.
There were only around 1700 runners at the start,
separated into four pens, so there was very little in the way of congestion.
The route is not a particularly pretty or interesting one.
Most of the way it passes through scrub and farm land,
with the odd more industrial area.
The finish (last 1.5k) is along the water front in Thessaloniki though which is nice and lively.
Support was virtually non existent along the entire course – even along the busy waterfront.
What was excellent, however, was marshalling and feed-stations.
These were numerous and supplied water, isotonic fluid (Poweraid),
bananas and, at a few, energy gels (High-5 I think).
At the finish, there were loads of people helping give you a great big medal,
water, isotonic fluid, a cereal bar and a banana. Bags were near the finish.
On the same day as the marathon there is a 10K – this is finished before most marathoners reach the end,
and a 5K which starts around 4.5 hours after the marathon.
There were loads more people competing in these two events than in the marathon.
There are relatively few flights to Thessaloniki from the UK.
EasyJet flys from Manchester and Gatwick direct.
Thessaloniki itself is a busy city. There are loads of bars, restaurants and night clubs
(some still going strong when I was walking to the bus to the start of the marathon at 5:30 am).
Prices for food and drinks are generally lower than the UK unless at some of the smarter waterfront bars.
The city has loads of history having been founded around 300BC.
There are loads of Roman ruins and Byzantine churches. There is a good Museum of Byzantium,
plus one on the Olympics, which we didn't get to.
The city is easily walkable, but there are cheap buses and taxis as well.
It is good to stay between Aristotle square in the West
and the White tower in the East (where all three races finish) – these are around 1k apart.
Thessaloniki is not a Paris or Barcelona for style and architecture.
The marathon doesn't have the crowd support or razzmatazz of London or Boston.
However, the course is definitely a potential PB/PR one,
and Thessaloniki is an interesting and lively place to visit.